National park continues to create ripples in South Okanagan

Area politicians dispute figures from proponents of South Okanagan Similkameen national park

A Canadian helicopter flies over the Similkameen River

A Canadian helicopter flies over the Similkameen River

Two area politicians are backing B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake’s decision not to endorse a national park in the South Okanagan Similkameen at this time.

The comments from LIberal MLA John Slater (Boundary-Similkameen) and  Area B (Cawston) director George Bush of the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen came on the heels of a series public pro-park meetings in the region.

Those sessions were organized through the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and the South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Network.

Slater was particularly upset with the economic-benefit figures given out at the meetings by CPAWS spokesperson Chloe O’Loughlin.

“I mean these numbers are all askew, they just don’t add up and I think that’s part of the problem, the numbers that are being thrown out there right now by CPAWS and other proponents just don’t make any sense,” said Slater, who agreed all the correct information should be made public before a final decision is made. “You could have a referendum with all the people in the Okanagan who are affected, but before you have that referendum you want to have all the facts, not all this hearsay and innuendo we’ve been getting for the last nine years.”

In her defence, O’Loughlin pointed out her numbers were based on the details taken from the seven current national parks in B.C. and not the current concept.

“In every community forum I made it clear these numbers were an average and would not be the numbers that necessarily represent this park and they’re not the numbers that would be relevant until much later in the process,” she said.

“So Slater is right, but the numbers may be high, they may be low, but even if they are 90 per cent wrong, they are millions of dollars better than what you currently have. You have no visitor spending with what you have right now. “

She, like everyone else, believes the details of the joint federal-provincial feasibility study done over an eight-year period starting in 2002 must be made public.

CPAWS is urging B.C. to re-engage in the park process to bring the matter to a conclusion.

The province withdrew its support for the park which has been nearly a decade in the making in December of last year. A short time later Parks Canada announced it would not proceed publicly with the plan.

B.C.’s support is necessary for a national park.

Meanwhile, in an open letter to the B.C. environment minister, the RDOS director for Cawston said it was during his campaign for office last year he realized just how opposed to the park residents were.

“It turned out that about 90 per cent of the locals did not want a park, and the few that did only wanted it because they didn’t want to see the land chopped up for residential lots,” he wrote. “I have attended all of Chloe O’Loughlin’s speeches on benefits of the national park and she states that only 21 per cent in our area ‘strongly’ oppose the park. This could be somewhat true, but she fails to say that the other 75 per cent are opposed to the park.”

In an interview Tuesday, Bush pointed out he campaigned against taking property out of the Agricultural Land Reserve for the proposed park, and believes those who elected him felt the same.

“I think we should be adding to it (ALR), not taking away from it,” he said. “In the big picture, I don’t understand why we would be spending millions or hundreds of millions of dollars to take away our food-producing land. It just doesn’t add up for me.

“All we would be doing is taking away from agriculture and giving it to tourism.”

According to RDOS chairman Dan Ashton, the board currently does not have a formal position, however, there will be a notice of motion coming forward at the April 19 meeting.

“I hope everybody (RDOS directors) votes to continue the process to make sure all of the outstanding issues are completed and the First Nations voice will be heard and the ranchers will be able to have formal discussions and the voices of the elected officials, tourism and businesses will be heard,” said O’Loughlin. “I would hope the RDOS would provide that leadership. It’s just unfortunate the province didn’t have the courage to make that decision to move forward.”

For his part, Slater questioned why the entire process has taken so long with so little progress to show for it.